Friday, February 29, 2008

Social Media Mavens, Promote Yourself With Traackr

you have photos, videos, music, audio, and blogs scattered across the
web, you may not know how many people are viewing and responding to
them. Now, with a new service called Traackr,
you can organize and manage your content on the web. With Traackr, you
can keep track of the popularity of your content, measure your
influence, and interact with other content producers, too.

When you sign up for Traackr, you "subscribe" to various content
sharing services by entering in your account information on your
profile page. At the moment, this list includes YouTube, Flickr, Revver, Dailymotion, MySpace, Vox, and

After subscribing, your videos, photos, songs, etc. will
automatically be added to your library via Traackr's auto-discovery
service. This process may take up to 24 hours.

Once your content has populated into the Traackr service, you'll be
provided with stats like number of views, comments, and ratings, as
well as trend graphs which show stats over time. Traackr will also show
which of your tags get the most views. Your daily numbers are compared
with others on the service and you are given a buzz and popularity
rating out of 100, which is added to your profile.

You can also use Traackr's "Campaigns"
feature to mix and mash up your content by creating groupings of your
media objects. By starting a "campaign," you can compare these
groupings to each other to see which ones are the best performers.
Using the data the campaigns provide, you can make decisions on what is
the best way to market your content in the future.

If you use the Campaigns feature, you will also be put on Traackr's "digerati"
map, which is their fancy way of saying that your profile and assets
are public and ranked in comparison with others. Using the "Explore"
option, you can browse other profiles, or click "find people like me"
to connect with others of similar interests.

Traackr's web site still seems a tad rough around the edges. Signing
up for services, for example, meant typing in your username, and
pressing "enter", but it took trial-and-error to figure that out, as
there was no "OK" button present to confirm your entry. The sign-up
process also allowed you to enter in all your usernames one after the
other, without confirming each selection, only to discover there was no
"Save" button at the bottom to save all your entries.

That being said, the service that Traackr provides could be a very
useful tool for web artists like song writers, videographers, video
bloggers, photographers, poets, and more. With Traackr's statistics,
you'll know right away, your social "net worth" on the web.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Twine Launches A Smarter Way To Organize Your Online Life

Radar Networks, the not-so-secret stealth startup, is finally unveiling its site, dubbed Twine.
Twine is targeted straight at groupware and knowledge-management apps
that have mostly been confined to enterprise installations, and opening
that up to a broader base of consumers. The startup has raised $5
million from Paul Allen, Peter Rip, Ron Conway in April, 2006, and has
done work for DARPA.

CEO Nova Spivack took me through a demo. On the surface, Twine is a
place to organize information you find or create on the Web—bookmarks,
notes, videos, photos,contacts, tasks. (A Web browser plug-in makes it
easy to save stuff to your Twine wherever you may find it on the Web). twine-tags.pngYou
can also share that information with a private group or publicly. Once
you ingest in all the information you want to organize, Twine applies a
semantic analysis to it that creates tags for each document or video or
photo. The tags match up to concepts that Twine’s algorithms associate
with each piece of content, regardless of whether that concept is
specifically mentioned in the Web page or other content being tagged.
For example, you might bookmark this post and Twine would create tags
for all the people mentioned in it (Nova Spivack, Paul Allen, Peter
Rip, and Ron Conway). It would also create tags for the organizations
related to the post, such as Radar Networks and DARPA, but also Paul
Allen’s venture firm Vulcan Capital—even if Vulcan was never mentioned
in the post.

What Twine does is automatically generate smart tags and connect
them together. There is also a social element. If you share a Twine
with others, each piece of content that someone brings into that online
space is associated with that person. So when you do a search, the
results that come back are influenced not just by the tags, but also by
who put the information into the Twine in the first place. “It’s the
wisdom of crowds plus the wisdom of computers working together,” says
Spivack. The more closely related that person is to you, the higher the
relevance. At the same time, Twine is creating a very detailed profile
of your interests which it hopes to run highly targeted ads against.

Twine is putting structure onto all of this unstructured data that
is out there by analyzing it and adding tags to it that are connected
together. The network of links between these tags is something that
Spivack calls the “semantic graph,” which includes the “social graph”
that is made up only of those tags categorized as people. Bu the
semantic graph is bigger than that, comprising other tags such as
organizations, places, and other categories.

Rather than create a semantic index of the entire Web, which would
be a huge undertaking, Spivack is starting with just those parts of the
Web people feel are important enough to save in their collections. Then
he applies natural language processing and semantic indexing to just
that data. “If you just sucked in the whole Web,” he says, “you would
get stuff people didn’t want. Here we are looking at who thought it was
important and why.” It’s also cheaper to do it this way, since it’s a
more limited set of data that needs to be run through Twine’s semantic

Everything in Twine will become widgetizable and exportable
elsewhere. There will also be a full set of APIs. All the data will be
able to be taken in and out. Other search engines will be able to index
anything in a public Twine, along with the smart tags that have been
appended to the information there. “When you put stuff into Twine,”
says Spivack, “Twine enriches it, but you can take it out.” Of course,
all of those enriched tags will point right back to Twine. “We’re the
only place that can even see the connections between things,” says
Spivack. Well, not quite yet. People have to start using Twine first.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ten Rules for Web Startups

#1: Be Narrow
Focus on the
smallest possible problem you could solve that would potentially be
useful. Most companies start out trying to do too many things, which
makes life difficult and turns you into a me-too. Focusing on a small
niche has so many advantages: With much less work, you can be the best
at what you do. Small things, like a microscopic world, almost always
turn out to be bigger than you think when you zoom in. You can much
more easily position and market yourself when more focused. And when it
comes to partnering, or being acquired, there's less chance for
conflict. This is all so logical and, yet, there's a resistance to
focusing. I think it comes from a fear of being trivial. Just remember:
If you get to be #1 in your category, but your category is too small,
then you can broaden your scope—and you can do so with leverage.

#2: Be Different
are in the air. There are lots of people thinking about—and probably
working on—the same thing you are. And one of them is Google. Deal with
it. How? First of all, realize that no sufficiently interesting space
will be limited to one player. In a sense, competition actually is
good—especially to legitimize new markets. Second, see #1—the
specialist will almost always kick the generalist's ass. Third,
consider doing something that's not so cutting edge. Many highly
successful companies—the aforementioned big G being one—have thrived by
taking on areas that everyone thought were done and redoing them right.
Also? Get a good, non-generic name. Easier said than done, granted. But
the most common mistake in naming is trying to be too descriptive,
which leads to lots of hard-to-distinguish names. How many blogging
companies have "blog" in their name, RSS companies "feed," or
podcasting companies "pod" or "cast"? Rarely are they the ones that
stand out.

#3: Be Casual
We're moving into what I call the era of the "Casual Web" (and casual content creation).
This is much bigger than the hobbyist web or the professional web. Why?
Because people have lives. And now, people with lives also have
broadband. If you want to hit the really big home runs, create services
that fit in with—and, indeed, help—people's everyday lives without
requiring lots of commitment or identity change. Flickr
enables personal publishing among millions of folks who would never
consider themselves personal publishers—they're just sharing pictures
with friends and family, a casual activity. Casual games are huge. Skype enables casual conversations.

#4: Be Picky
perennial business rule, and it applies to everything you do: features,
employees, investors, partners, press opportunities. Startups are often
too eager to accept people or ideas into their world. You can almost
always afford to wait if something doesn't feel just right, and false
negatives are usually better than false positives. One of Google's
biggest strengths—and sources of frustration for outsiders—was their
willingness to say no to opportunities, easy money, potential
employees, and deals.

#5: Be User-Centric
experience is everything. It always has been, but it's still
undervalued and under-invested in. If you don't know user-centered
design, study it. Hire people who know it. Obsess over it. Live and
breathe it. Get your whole company on board. Better to iterate a
hundred times to get the right feature right than to add a hundred
more. The point of Ajax is that it can make a site more responsive, not
that it's sexy. Tags can make things easier to find and classify, but
maybe not in your application. The point of an API is so developers can
add value for users, not to
impress the geeks. Don't get sidetracked by technologies or the
blog-worthiness of your next feature. Always focus on the user and all
will be well.

#6: Be Self-Centered
products almost always come from someone scratching their own itch.
Create something you want to exist in the world. Be a user of your own
product. Hire people who are users of your product. Make it better
based on your own desires. (But don't trick yourself into thinking you are
your user, when it comes to usability.) Another aspect of this is to
not get seduced into doing deals with big companies at the expense or
your users or at the expense of making your product better. When you're
small and they're big, it's hard to say no, but see #4.

#7: Be Greedy
It's always good to have options. One of the best ways to do that is to have income. While it's true that traffic is now again actually worth something,
the give-everything-away-and-make-it-up-on-volume strategy stamps an
expiration date on your company's ass. In other words, design something
to charge for into your product and start taking money within 6 months
(and do it with PayPal). Done right, charging money can actually
accelerate growth, not impede it, because then you have something to
fuel marketing costs with. More importantly, having money coming in the
door puts you in a much more powerful position when it comes to your
next round of funding or acquisition talks. In fact, consider whether
you need to have a free version at all. The TypePad
approach—taking the high-end position in the market—makes for a great
business model in the right market. Less support. Less scalability
concerns. Less abuse. And much higher margins.

#8: Be Tiny
It's standard web startup wisdom by now that with the substantially lower costs to starting something on the web, the difficulty of IPOs, and the willingness of the big guys to shell out for small teams
doing innovative stuff, the most likely end game if you're successful
is acquisition. Acquisitions are much easier if they're small. And
small acquisitions are possible if valuations are kept low from the get
go. And keeping valuations low is possible because it doesn't cost much
to start something anymore (especially if you keep the scope narrow).
Besides the obvious techniques, one way to do this is to use turnkey
services to lower your overhead—Administaff, ServerBeach, web apps, maybe even Elance.

#9: Be Agile
know that old saw about a plane flying from California to Hawaii being
off course 99% of the time—but constantly correcting? The same is true
of successful startups—except they may start out heading toward Alaska.
Many dot-com bubble companies that died could have eventually been
successful had they been able to adjust and change their plans instead
of running as fast as they could until they burned out, based on their
initial assumptions. Pyra was started to build a project-management
app, not Blogger. Flickr's company was building a game. Ebay was going
to sell auction software. Initial assumptions are almost always wrong.
That's why the waterfall approach to building software is obsolete in
favor agile techniques. The same philosophy should be applied to building a company.

#10: Be Balanced
is a startup without bleary-eyed, junk-food-fueled, balls-to-the-wall
days and sleepless, caffeine-fueled, relationship-stressing nights?
Answer?: A lot more enjoyable place to work. Yes, high levels of
commitment are crucial. And yes, crunch times come and sometimes
require an inordinate, painful, apologies-to-the-SO amount of work. But
it can't be all the time. Nature requires balance for health—as do the
bodies and minds who work for you and, without which, your company will
be worthless. There is no better way to maintain balance and lower your
stress that I've found than David Allen's GTD process. Learn it. Live it. Make it a part of your company, and you'll have a secret weapon.

#11 (bonus!): Be Wary
Overgeneralized lists of business "rules" are not to be taken too literally. There are exceptions to everything.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

11 Things To Know About Semantic Web

1. You don’t need to apologize for calling
it Web 3.0. Of course the Web does not upgrade in one go like a company
switching to Vista. But there is a definite phase transition from
current technologies. My personal Web 3.0 definition is “the
combination of Web 2.0 mass collaboration with structured databases”.

2. Semantic Web will start the long, slow decline of relational
database technology. Web 3.0 enables the transition from “structure
upfront” to “structure on the fly”. The world is clearly too complex to
structure upfront, despite the tremendous skills brought by data
modelers. Structure on the fly is done by people adding structure as
they use the service and by engines that automatically create structure
from unstructured content. Structure on the fly is very, very hard and
RDBMS is very, very entrenched so this will be a long and slow
transition; but the decline is inevitable. Innovation has slowed in the
RDBMS world - with open source at one end and Oracle at the other,
there is little reason to innovate - just when Semantic Web innovation
is accelerating. RDBMS was good for enterprise scale performance and
reliability but for Internet scale it falls short; just look at what
companies like Amazon use.

3. If you have a firm grasp of the theoretical underpinnings of the
semantic web, things like RDF, tuples, Sparql and OWL that make my
brain hurt, you will be able to charge a fat premium in consulting fees
for a while, as not many people really understand this stuff. But make
hay while the sun shines, as some entrepreneur will surely figure out
how to abstract this stuff and make it accessible for the masses.

4. The success stories will be different from Web 2.0. Just like Web
2.0 success stories were different from Web 1.0 successes. Web 2.0
successes were mostly about a single feature (photos, bookmarks, video,
phone, blogging, etc) where there was extremely rapid adoption by
consumers. Semantic Web is inherently about integration and those plays
tend to be different, longer and much bigger potential.

5. Don’t look for a killer app. That implies a client/consumer win.
This is much more likely to be a server/platform/enterprise win. Even
if the initial experimentation is done in the consumer domain; Freebase
for example looks like a mass Beta test for some enterprise technology
that Metaweb wants to release later.

6. As this is a platform play, look for powerful APIs and ways to
motivate entrepreneurs to build apps on top, with a clear “show me the
money” proposition. Those apps maybe consumer or enterprise focussed.

7. Semantic Web could slow the Google steamroller. This could be
like the PC for IBM or the Web for Microsoft. The steamroller’s
momentum carries it forward for a very long time and it can build all
kinds of wrapper systems around it, but something new always does come
along. Google mastered how to give some structure to countless
unstructured HTML pages. Semantic Web will gradually make that less
critical as the underlying content will be more structured. These big
generational changes - mainframe to PC to Web - seem to be happening
faster, so it seems about time for another big generational change to
start happening.

8. But don’t look for Yet Another Search Engine (YASE) to be the
David to Google’s Goliath. Just like PC was not another mainframe and
Web was not another PC. Don’t ask me precisely what it will look like;
if I did know I would have to kill you if I told you. I just know what
it won’t look like

9. Vertical Search is the pragmatist’s Semantic Web. Vertical Search
businesses use whatever techniques they need - basic search engines,
scrapers, APIs, human editors - to create some meaningful/useful
structure in a single domain. Over time these cobbled together
pragmatic solutions will be replaced by a semantic web platform,
probably by an API that enables human editors to leverage their
valuable domain expertise.

10. Tagging is the quietly disruptive technology. Everybody tags. It
is the most basic human urge to mark what we find. We do it with
Folders in Windows. We do it online with Bookmarks. Specialist tag
Microformats such as Hcard and Hcalendar add more structure and we are
only at the very start of this wave.

11. Semantic Web will leverage the “community” to add structure and
this will use some techniques from first generation Social Networking.
But it is very unlikely that Semantic Web will emerge from the walled
gardens of current social networking sites. The winners will know how
to motivate community to provide structure and will provide the tools
that make the structuring so easy that nobody knows they are doing
anything so boring as structuring. That is the big lesson from Web 2.0
that will be applied in the Semantic Web.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

New Elmo Live can sit, stand and tell stories -- is in league with your three-year-old

If you hadn't noticed by now, Elmo
is rapidly on his way from being a creepy laughing toy -- and
annoyingly difficult to find during the holidays -- to being a
full-fledged creepy robot... and even more difficult to find during the
holidays. The new Elmo Live, which Fisher-Price is announcing at Toy
Fair 2008 this week, can mouth his words like a real-live Muppet, and
can sit, stand and gesture as he tells stories, jokes, sings and play
games. Of course, we're sure you can still tickle him and set him on fire,
but the depth of interaction Elmo Live brings should surely bring the
creepiness factor to whole new levels. Which is why this is potentially
the best toy ever. Hopefully you can re-program him to drop kick your Pleo. Elmo Live will be out on October 14th for $60.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chinese Stealth Startup Qifang Wants to Bring P2P Lending to the Mainland

lending is coming to China. This morning I interviewed a
Chinese-American entrepreneur living in Shanghai named Calvin Chin
working on a stealth P2P lending site for Chinese student loans called Qifang.
(The name, which translates to “bloom,” comes from the Chairman Mao
quote, “Bai Hua Qi Fang”—”Let a hundred flowers bloom.”) Consumer
lending is just getting off the ground in China. Most college education
is financed by group borrowing associations rather than bank loans.
Chin wants to bring that group lending dynamic online with Qifang. In
fact, P2P lending might have a greater impact in China and other
developing countries than the U.S. because of the absence of other
consumer banking alternatives.

Chin was born in Michigan, went to Yale, and worked in banking and a
few tech startups before moving to China. He founded Qifang in August,
2007. He is aiming to a launch the site in China in the spring. So far
it is a real bootstrap operation. He has raised $200,000 in angel money
from investors in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia, and is in the
process of raising a series A financing. Qifang was inspired by
existing P2P lending startups like Prosper and Zopa, but Chin is
developing it with a Chinese twist. He says:

We feel strongly about China’s Internet being pretty
embarrassingly all about copies. And while we were inspired by other
models, we feel like we need to challenge ourselves to be different and
better and fit the market. We think of it as innovation leveraging—take
a good idea and make it work for China by making it different.

porting over Prosper’s business model won’t work, given the lack of
credit history, the lack of a large student loan market, the
still-young Internet culture, and the severe regulatory environment. As
with Prosper, individuals with money to invest can come on the site and
register as lenders. They can browse through the profiles of the
different borrowers to decide who to loan their money out to. Unlike
Prosper, Qifang is starting out only with student loans.

And it is not the fist P2P lending site in China. A broader one called PPDai offers P2P loans across many categories (see this write-up
in English). But Chin thinks that starting with student loans is the
better strategy in China because of the need to stay in the good graces
of the government. Anything that helps promote education is popular
with government bureaucrats.

It is also a big market. Chin estimates there are 25 million
students in China, who pay an average tuition of $700 a year. That is
$17.5 billion in potential loans.

expects the interest rate on most loans on Qifang to be between 8 to 12
percent, a decent return. The interest rate will be based on how many
lenders bid on each loan. The site will recommend that lenders invest
in a portfolio of loans to reduce their risk, but if they choose, each
one can put all their money in a single loan. Since there is very
little credit history on individuals in China, the site will use other
proxies to calculate risk. Each borrower must scan in their national ID
cards to verify who they are, and list their school, major, grades,
hometown, parents ID cards and income. Chin is creating partnerships
with the schools directly, so that the information students supply can
be verified and so that loan payments can be made directly to
educational institutions. “We don’t want students running off to
Macao,” he jokes.

There will also be an interesting social calculus that takes place
on the site. Since each borrower’s parents will be named on the loan,
failure to pay it back would result in a shameful losing of face for
the parents. “Social pressure is very powerful here,” notes Chin.
Default and delinquency rates will also be visible by hometowns,
school, and even major. Banks don’t benefit from that sort of social
pressure. Whether it will have any effect on default rates will be
worth watching.

As growing economies like China develop their banking
infrastructure, P2P lending has a shot of growing up with it rather
than fighting against an already-entrenched way of doing things. In
that sense, P2P lending might have a better shot in China than it does